This is about as important as a mid-season series can get. A series win puts us right back in the hunt for the division but a loss could be a crippling blow that stops us from even reaching Hoover. As it is so important, I talked with Plainsman Parking Lot, maybe the best baseball-only blog in the SEC, to get a read on an Auburn team that is dealing with some struggles of it's own.
Auburn had some preseason buzz as a contender for the West. What happened?
At this point, I still think the West is wide open for most of the Division (even for LSU). Going in to this weekend, Auburn is just 2 games out of first in the West and LSU is 4 games out. Of course, part of that thinking is me being a bit overly optimistic. I will admit though, some of the shine as rubbed off from the preseason. A turning point had to be the weekend in Starkville. Auburn went in with a 2-1 Conference record and left with a 2-4 Mark. That was a winnable series and Auburn wasted a golden opportunity. It was really a turning point for Auburn and signaled a skid where we lost 8 of 9 and the season went a bit pear shaped. The best thing though, was that this was early in the SEC season and AU still has room to recover, but we're going to constantly play behind the 8 ball from here on out.
Auburn hit a pretty bad slump where they were swept in consecutive weekends, but thanks to some voodoo work (and playing Kentucky) they seem to be off the slide. Is it false hope or do you think the Plainsmen can keep the momentum going?
I think (well, really hope) that we've turned a corner. The UK series was big for confidence. It snapped the skid and was Auburn's first SEC sweep since Ole Miss last year. The offense came around and the bullpen actually performed well enough to bail out some lackluster starting pitching. I still don't have a good feel about which Auburn team will show up on a given weekend, but Auburn fixed some big problems areas (like stopping runs with 2 outs). The LSU series is going to really determine if Auburn has rebounded or if the UK series was just Auburn taking advantage of one of the SEC's dregs.
It's a little over 30 games into the season and if I hear someone talk about the new bats on a broadcast I want to throw my shoe. For LSU, the amount of bunting has skyrocketed. What's it done to your offense?
Auburn started really implementing bunting last season. I don't know if it was just anticipation of the changes this year or players playing to their strengths. We've got two guys (Justin Fradejas and Bobby Andrews) that have been known to bunt in almost ANY situation (much to the frustration of the Auburn fans). I think the bats have diminished some of the power but hits are still going to be hits. To me, the bats are mostly a mental thing. Players have to make a more conscious effort to square up balls. They can't just Gorilla Ball it any more. You can blame it on the bats all you want, but a hit is still going to be a hit. One thing I don't think that's been talked about enough is how the bats respond to heat. I can't speak for the weather in Baton Rouge, but here in Auburn we've had cool to cold temperatures for most of the games. However, during Day games, especially around the heat of the day, there have been more hits, more Home Runs, and more deep flies. South Carolina & Clemson had a bit of a scuffle between each other when Clemson accused Carolina of "heat rolling" the bats. I think the Gamecocks were on to something. I'd hope in the offseason the NCAA does a bit more study on how the weather affects the composite. Just a hair-brained theory of mine. Bottom line, most folks are making a bigger about the bats then they need to be.
Bottom 9th, 2 out, down one. Who do you want at the plate?
That's a tough question and it depends on the situation. If I want a guy who can win it with one swing? That's Kevin Patterson. "The Kraken" is our biggest and best power threat. If I need a guy who's going to give me a solid hit and not strike out? Casey McElroy, probably our best overall hitter. Finally, if I want a guy who's going to be patient and is not afraid to take a walk? Then I want Dan Gamache, he's Auburn's most patient hitter and is an on base machine.
Both of these teams are desperate to keep their heads above water after a few bad weeks in conference play. Do you think the last spot in Hoover is in play this weekend?
On paper? Yes. Auburn and LSU are really battling for cushion in the league. I always say, to make Hoover, you have to be better than 4 teams. We already know two of those teams (well, we think we do) Kentucky and Tennessee. I think UK and UT are about a weekend away from closing up shop and calling it a season. So who are the other two teams? Personally, I think those teams are Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Sure, the Bulldogs are looking pretty right now, but they still have Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, and LSU coming up. Ole Miss still has UF, Arkansas and South Carolina. I also wouldn't count out a UGA implosion. Yes, the Auburn weekend is big for LSU but I think Vanderbilt is bigger. Let's say, hypothetically the Bengals can take 2 of 3 from the Dores, the rest of the schedule for LSU is really back loaded with the bottom of the league. Watching LSU this season, I think y'all got absolutely screwed by having to play a double header in Athens. It let the Bulldogs sneak back in. The best thing about the West? It's still wide open. However, the winner of this weekend can put themselves in better position for Hoover and give some breathing room and room for error.
The SEC East is extremely top heavy, while the West is a jumble of sub .500 league teams. And yet most mock seedings have the SEC with 9-10 bids. Is the league overrated or will qualifying for Hoover be enough to get a team into June?
I don't think the league is overrated. At then end I still think only 8 teams will get in. The only way I can see the SEC getting 9 bids is if either LSU or UGA just barely MISS going to Hoover. 10 teams? That's a bit far fetched and early. The reason the SEC is in line for 10 bids is because of the RPI. It's a tough league, we schedule well, and in most cases (we win). I think one thing that's helping the SEC is the fact teams like UAB, Samford, Troy, Southern Miss, SELA, etc are having healthy RPIs, so these midweek games are boosting RPIs instead of hurting them.
How do you see the weekend playing out?
Let's see which Auburn team shows up. We're pitching a guy making his first start on Friday, we'll coin flip on Saturday, and who knows on Sunday. What can win this weekend for Auburn is if the starting pitching shows up. If Auburn can get our starters to go 6 innings and keep us in the game? Then I think we can win the series. It's tough to win in Baton Rouge but Auburn has some confidence. If we get out to a bad start and have to play from behind? It's going to be a long weekend.
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Florida @ UGA
Miss. St. @ ARK
UK @ Ole Miss
UT @ Bama
#1 Vandy @ #3 S Car
That Vandy - S Car matchup is going to be epic. Elsewhere in college baseball, there are a handful of ranked Pac-10 teams playing each other, as is OU and Okie St.
If you are in the south, you know there is some heavy stuff hitting right now, and while Baton Rouge is avoiding it for now, rain is expected early this afternoon. It should clear before the game, but be prepared for some soggy seats. Clear and breezy the rest of the weekend.
No TV this weekend, but the GeauxZone will have video all 3 nights. Also, Jim Hawthorne will be absent from some of this weekend's radio broadcast as he accepts an award at the Tennessee spring game.
The big promotion this weekend will have the '91 Championship team in to celebrate it's 20th anniversary on Saturday.
Also, I'm going to this series, so PBP updates fall to anyone who wants to volunteer.
PITCHING MATCHUPS from LSUSports.net
LSU - Fr. RHP Kurt McCune (5-1, 1.80 ERA, 55.0 IP, 13 BB, 44 SO)
AU - Jr. RHP Zach Blatt (1-2, 6.53 ERA, 20.2 IP, 11 BB, 19 SO)
LSU - Fr. RHP Kevin Gausman (2-3, 4.60 ERA, 45.0 IP, 15 BB, 41 SO)
AU - Jr. LHP Cory Luckie (1-1, 5.20 ERA, 36.1 IP, 8 BB, 39 SO) or Jr. RHP Jon Luke Jacobs (1-2, 2.74 ERA, 23.0 IP, 3 BB, 25 SO)
LSU - Sr. RHP Ben Alsup (4-3, 3.27 ERA, 41.1 IP, 16 BB, 27 SO)
AU - TBA